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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Forestry – can it stop the mounting threats to the region’s forests?

L. MubaiwaLloyd Mubaiwa is Senior Forestry Expert, SADC Secretariat, Gaborone, Botswana.

Regional forestry cooperation among southern African countries, coordinated by SADC for two decades, will gain a policy framework when the Protocol on Forestry is ratified.

The Millenium Development Goals, adopted at the Millenium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, emphasize the need to free all people from abject poverty (United Nations, 2000). Of the approximately 207 million people in the countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), it is estimated that 70 percent live below the international poverty line of US$2 per day (SADC, 2003). The situation is exacerbated by the high population growth rate, estimated at 2.4 percent per annum (SADC, 2004); the high HIV/AIDS infection rate, estimated at above 20 percent of the adult population (SADC, 2003); the low agricultural output; and the increasing frequency of climatic extremes. Poverty has forced most communities to resort to unsustainable utilization of forest resources, which many people consider freely available. In the process they destroy the environment on which their existence depends, hence the vicious cycle of poverty. For the past two decades SADC has recognized the role of forestry in poverty reduction, food security and environmental protection. The development of the SADC Protocol on Forestry is a milestone in realizing the region’s socio-economic development goals.

This article highlights the origin of cooperation and integration in the subregion, threats to the region’s forests, the role of the SADC Protocol on Forestry and future challenges to fostering cooperation in the management of the region’s forest resources.


Cooperation in SADC had its origin in the socio-economic and political history of the subregion which created strong bonds among its member countries. In the late 1970s the five Frontline Independent States (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia) initiated cooperation with the aim of helping minority-ruled States attain political liberation. The focus was later broadened to include economic liberation as signified by the theme of the Lusaka Summit in 1980, “Southern Africa: Towards Economic Liberation”. This summit saw the formation of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which sought to strengthen regional cooperation. Namibia’s independence in 1990 ushered in a new dimension of reducing economic dependence on South Africa, then ruled under apartheid. In 1992 the Heads of State and Government signed a treaty to transform the Southern African Development Coordination Conference into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to increase the depth of regional integration by creating a legally binding cooperation framework. SADC membership is currently 13 countries (see Figure).

SADC envisions a “regional community that will ensure economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life for the people of southern Africa” (SADC, 2003). To transform the political commitments into action, a decentralized integration model was developed in which each member country was given the responsibility to coordinate the development of a specific economic sector. From 1984 on, Malawi coordinated the forest sector, providing leadership in regional forestry programming, networking and resource mobilization. The Technical Committee of Directors of Forestry was established in 1985 to harmonize approaches to the region’s forests. The Protocol on Forestry was initiated in 1998 to provide a policy framework for cooperation in this respect.

The decentralized system of sectoral coordination was encumbered by fiscal and personnel problems, however. Personnel were seconded to the SADC Forestry Sector Technical Coordination Unit from the Malawi Forestry Department, and staff turnover was high. Malawi was responsible for providing the unit’s operating finances, which were often inadequate. The consequent reliance on donor funding, which depended to a certain extent on government relations, affected the continuity of some projects.

In 2001, Heads of State and Government approved the restructuring of SADC institutions and programmes to increase operational efficiency. The 21 sectors originally coordinated by member countries have been clustered into four directorates, managed centrally at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana: Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR); Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (TIFI); Infrastructure and Services (IS); and Social, Human Development and Special Programmes (SHDSP). The FANR Directorate comprises seven technical areas of cooperation, namely food security, agricultural and natural resources research and training, crop development, livestock production and animal disease control, fisheries, wildlife, and forestry. The directorate’s priority objectives are poverty eradication, food security, sustainable utilization of natural resources and effective protection of the environment.

A Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan was developed in 2003 to provide strategic direction for regional policies and programmes for the next 15 years. Priority intervention areas include cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS, gender, environment and sustainable development, private-sector development, statistics, information and communication technology and science and technology.

SADC member countries


SADC forests are among the richest and most diverse in the world, covering an estimated 357 million hectares or 55 percent of Africa’s forest cover (FAO, 2001). They range from the tropical moist forests of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the scrubland and desert ecosystems of the Kalahari and Namib deserts in western Botswana and southern Namibia. Natural forests comprise the following six main vegetation types.

Plantations account for about 2.5 million hectares or approximately 1†percent of forest cover in the region (FAO, 2001). Over 75 percent of the plantations are commercially managed. These are mainly located in the high-elevation and high-rainfall areas in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Most of them are privately owned. The main species planted are eucalypts and pines (Eucalyptus grandis, E. cloeziana, E. camaldulensis, Pinus patula, P. taeda, P. elliottii and P. kesiya). Further expansion of industrial plantations in SADC countries is limited by unavailability of suitable land. Community outgrower schemes, which have been introduced in South Africa and Zimbabwe, have the potential to make significant contributions and thus transform rural livelihoods.

The region’s forests provide a wide range of products and services that are important to the socio-economic well-being of the region’s communities. Apart from maintaining ecological balance and biological diversity, they are important as a source of food, energy, shelter, medicine, income and spiritual well-being. Forests protect several large river basins shared by a number of countries. Forest mismanagement in one country is therefore bound to have cross-border effects – hence the need for a regional approach.


SADC has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. The challenge of increasing food requirements has inevitably presented the region with additional challenges of uncontrolled deforestation and cultivation of fragile ecosystems, resulting in soil erosion, desertification, biodiversity loss, decline in agricultural productivity and ensuing socio-economic upheavals (CTA, 2004). For example, in the mid-1990s, annual soil loss was estimated at 50†000 tonnes in Swaziland, 3†million tonnes in Zambia, 96 million tonnes in Zimbabwe’s Save Catchment Area and 300 to 400 million tonnes in South Africa (UNEP, 1994). Swaziland is the only country in the region that has witnessed a positive net gain in forest cover, of 1.2 percent per annum (FAO, 2001). Deforestation in the region is estimated at 2.25 million hectares annually, mainly owing to woodfuel demand and agricultural expansion. Woodfuel is generally collected for domestic use, tobacco curing and brick kilning.

FAO (2003) estimated fuelwood consumption in the region at nearly 90 million cubic metres annually. More than half of Zambia’s fuelwood is converted to charcoal, yielding about 100†000 tonnes annually (UNEP, 2002). Nearly 47 percent of deforestation in Malawi is attributed to woodfuel harvesting, and tobacco and tea estates account for 21 percent of national woodfuel consumption. In Zimbabwe, wood used for brick kilning in rural areas is said to equal that used for cooking (Zimbabwe Forestry Commission, 2003). Uncontrolled wildfires and illegal selective commercial harvesting also deplete the region’s forest resources, resulting in significant changes in forest structure and composition and in some cases rendering the forest more vulnerable to opportunistic invasive alien species. Geist and Lambin (2002) concluded that economic factors account for 81 percent of the deforestation in the SADC region.

Forest cover loss is exacerbated by inadequate institutional support and shortage of trained personnel, which result in ineffective approaches particularly to the management of natural forests. The adoption of technologies emerging from national and international forestry research institutions such as the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is limited, primarily because of inadequate extension support. The need for effective policies, legislation and institutional structures that recognize forests and wildlife as viable land-use options and that allow community-based management of forest resources has been recognized at the regional level and included in the SADC Protocol on Forestry.

Charcoal production from mopane (Colophospermum mopane); in the SADC region, the demand for woodfuel, including charcoal, is one of the main causes of deforestation


The SADC Protocol on Forestry is a regional policy framework to foster cooperation in forestry and provide a common vision and approach to the management of the region’s forest resources. The then SADC Forestry Sector Technical Coordination Unit began work on the protocol in 1998 in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Heads of State and Government of all but three SADC countries (Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia) signed the Protocol in October 2002. Ratification is yet to be completed.


The SADC Protocol on Forestry is aimed at promoting sustainable forest management and trade in forest products, consistent with the Forest Principles adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Proposals for Action of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF)/Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF)/United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) process. For easy alignment with national policies and legislation, the protocol was designed to be compatible with international initiatives such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which all SADC member countries are signatories.

The protocol advocates the active participation of all stakeholders and places responsibilities for its implementation at both the national and regional levels. Particular attention is given to the adoption of policies and strategies that enable active participation of local communities and women in forest management “including affirmative steps to seek and encourage such participation” (SADC, 2002). The protocol recognizes intellectual property rights and aims to ensure equitable benefits from indigenous knowledge systems. Member countries are expected to cooperate in good faith. It enshrines basic principles of sovereign rights over national forests, intergenerational equity, maintenance of ecological functions and minimizing undue negative environmental impacts.

The protocol is legally binding in that a signatory State could be taken to a court of law and compensation could be sought for failure to comply. However, respect for political sovereignty seems to predominate and cooperation in good faith generally prevails.

Ratification process

The SADC Protocol on Forestry has been ratified by four of the current 13 member countries (Lesotho, Mauritius, South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania). At least five more countries must ratify it to obtain the minimum two-thirds majority required for it to enter into force.

Ratification has primarily been slow because:

Most ratifications of SADC policy instruments take place within the first year after signature, and then the drive for ratification generally wanes (Santana, 2004). The average time for ratification of SADC protocols is 2.5 years, so the Protocol on Forestry has not yet exceeded the average. The Protocols on Shared Watercourses and Tourism took an average of 4.2 years each. The Amended Protocol on Trade had the shortest average of 1.1 years.

Role of member countries in implementing the protocol

Commitment from both member countries and the region’s Secretariat is critical to the success of the regional approach to forest management.

Most of the activities will be implemented at the national level. Member countries are expected to cooperate particularly on issues of common concern which include deforestation, forest fires, biodiversity conservation, invasive alien species, capacity building, promotion of trade and implementation of harmonized approaches, policies, legislation and issues of global concern. The following are a few examples of activities to be implemented by member countries:

A range of global and regional tools and mechanisms can help countries in implementation of these activities, including regional criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, the National Forest Programme Facility and FAO assistance to national forest programmes and national forest resources assessment.

Role of the SADC Secretariat in implementing the protocol

The SADC Secretariat will have the role of facilitating, coordinating and harmonizing policies, strategies and programmes. The following are some of the activities expected to be undertaken at the regional level:

Collaboration with FAO and other United Nations agencies is imperative in approaching these demanding tasks. FAO has already helped develop methodologies for data and information collection from SADC member countries, for example. The Forestry Outlook Study for Africa subregional report for Southern Africa (FAO, 2003) identified some key issues which SADC needs to follow up with specific intervention programmes.


The Forestry Development Programme under the FANR Directorate currently consists of three projects developed by the Forestry Sector Technical Coordination Unit, which were handed over to the SADC Secretariat upon centralization.

While these projects address some of the issues in the Protocol on Forestry, it is important that future projects be assessed for added value to regional integration as part of the prioritization process. A comprehensive forestry programme is being developed under the FANR Directorate and needs to reflect the new SADC priorities as outlined in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan.

In addition, other forest-related projects are coordinated under other programmes as follows.